Wednesday, July 17, 2019

BEING A SANCTUARY CITY FOR GOD

     
Over the last few years, we have been hearing a great deal, in the press, about sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are cities who have made a conscious decision to not turn illegal immigrants over to the government for deportation.  These cities are safe havens for those who have broken the law by the very act of coming to America. 

       Depending on your view of illegal immigration, you may or may not support the idea of Sanctuary Cities. What you may not know is, the idea of Sanctuary Cities dates back to the earliest days of the nation if Israel. While the concept has been twisted a bit, the idea is certainly not new.               

      Imagine you are out somewhere and you accidentally kill someone, whether it be by neglect, stupidity or just plain happenstance.  Obviously, you would want a chance to clear your name and not be labeled a murderer.  Imagine, also, the person you killed has a close relative who, legally, could hunt you down and kill you in retaliation and the only recourse you have is to flee to a City of Refuge where you will be protected until you can stand trial and clear your name.  

     This was a very real scenario in ancient Israel.  God differentiated between pre-meditated murder and accidental death.  If an Israelite killed another person without intent, he could flee to one of the Cities of Refuge and plead his case.  If the Avenger of Blood, usually a family member of the deceased, caught the killer on the way, the AV could legally kill him.  If the killer made it to the City of Refuge, he would stand trial, and if cleared of murder, could safely live in the City of Refuge, but could not leave as long as the current High Priest lived.  If the man cleared of murder stepped out of the City of Refuge before the current High Priest died, he was fair game for the Avenger of Blood.

       Like everything God did with Israel, there is a spiritual connection to our relationship with Jesus Christ.   Isaiah 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.   

        These Cities of Refuge served as a type of Christ, a place where one could receive absolution from an accuser.  Today, we face an accuser, Satan, who, scripture tells us, accuses the saints before God's throne, day and night.  Alas, we find refuge in Christ.  Jesus serves as the advocate of our righteousness, a righteousness He purchased for us on the cross.

          Right now, we are surrounded by a multitude of guilty people who have no one to advocate for them. Our role, now, becomes similar to a Sanctuary City in as much as we are to provide safe haven to sinners as we introduce them to the one who can bring them the same absolution given us. We do this by looking beyond the sin and seeing the need, as Jesus did.  

           When Jesus walked among man, He loved on people and then addressed their sin from the context of His compassion and power.  Within the religious community, Jesus was very harsh with those who should have known better, pointing out hypocrisy and sin.  The church seems to have this backwards today.  We excuse all manner of sin within the congregation, yet we are quick to point out sin and pronounce gleeful condemnation on the lost.

            Should we not, as Galatians 6 commands us, gently hold our brothers and sisters accountable for sin while seeking the lost in order to bring them to Jesus for forgiveness?  We forget, the lost are not gong to hell because they sin, the lost sin because they are going to hell.  John 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

            Clearly, unbelief is the cause of damnation.  Who among the saved does not sin every day?  

              The role of the believer in this world is to serve as a City of Refuge, a Sanctuary City, where the lost and hurting can learn the truth and meet the One who can clear them of all guilt before they, one day, stand judgement.  As in scripture, not all who fled to the City of Refuge found absolution.  There will be many we invest in, love on and with whom we will share truth, who will, ultimately, reject the message of God's grace.  

                Scripture tells us there is a point where we no longer invest in someone who refuses to respond to the message. Matthew 10:14  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. This is, however, a decision we come to after much prayer.  Each situation is unique, there is no formula or set timetable.  The key is, we want to give opportunity to the lost.

             Our message is not popular and we should expect a degree of ostracisation from a world bent on serving the flesh.  Looking at what the Apostle Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel will inform us, we should expect no better.  We must avoid the trap of thinking God owes us something for our obedience.   

             How do we serve as Sanctuary for unbelievers? Here are some practical steps we can begin taking today:

1. Be right with God - we cannot serve as a guide for others if we 
are not moored to the Father, this means an active prayer life            with daily time in the Word.  Think of yourself as a lighthouse,        fixed and strong.

2. Live a life worthy of your calling - Ephesians 4:1  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love 

3. Be nice to people - 2 Timothy 2:24  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.  Rude angry evangelism drives people away.  Remember when Jesus used to stand on the corner of His home town shouting, "Repent you Whoremongers!"  Yeah, me neither. Our evangelism must be born out of love and concern for the lost, lest we drive them away from the Savior whom we have poorly represented.

4. Know what you claim to believe - 2 Timothy 2:15  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. Study your Bible. You will schedule what is important in life.  When was the last time you missed dinner because you didn't have time to eat?

5. Be approachable - Galatians 6:3  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. It does not matter what title you have, what degree you have or what position you hold, what matters is you love others. Jesus called scholars (Saul) and fishermen (Peter) to serve Him and all did so by being available to others.

          The bottom line is, the church is not to try to convict the unbeliever for specific sins, instead, we shed the light of scripture on those sins and allow the Holy Spirit to convict the heart of the sinner. Remember, sin is the symptom of the disease of unbelief. We can treat the symptom and leave the patient dying or we can bring the dying soul to the Fountain of Life, Jesus Christ.

            No sinner is beyond God's love and reach. People are messy and as we involve ourselves in the lives of messy people, we may get a little mess on ourselves as well. Jesus was willing to be covered in wounds, blood and spit for us.  

             Be open to God's direction and calling. Be a person the lost can come to and feel safe when life falls apart for them.  Lead them to the Savior, be a Sanctuary, a safe haven in the time of storms. 

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!





             

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

GOD, THE RESTORER OF BROKEN LIVES

             
  A skilled auto maker once built a car for himself.  He put great care and love into building this car and when it was finished, he felt he had created a masterpiece.  One day, a very wealthy man came along and fell in love with the car.  After much persuading, the wealthy man prevailed and the car builder, won over by the man's enthusiasm and very generous offer, agreed to sell his creation.  Over the years, the car builder missed the car he considered his greatest achievement and often regaled his son with stories about the car and how much he had loved it.  Photos of the car were plenteous around the house.

      Years later, the son was out driving past a house and saw a wreck of a car, up on blocks and surrounded by weeds, rusting away in a yard.  The son recognized the car from his father's photos and went  to the house to inquire about the car.  "That old piece of junk?" the owner replied.  "That thing's broken beyond repair and worthless."  The young man offered to buy the car, happy to get it off his property, the owner accepted.  The young man brought the destroyed vehicle to his father, the master car builder.  When the car's maker saw the condition of his labor of love, he wept over it.  Over the next days and weeks, the brokenhearted car maker began to lovingly restore his precious creation until one day, it sat sparkling like new in his driveway, ready to go for a long mountain drive.            

  Have you ever seen a neglected or abused vintage auto or  a piece of furniture go through restoration, only to come out looking as good as, or even better than, new?  It can be fascinating to see the before and after photos of a beaten up item, once it has been expertly and lovingly restored.      

               Even more exciting is to watch a life beaten by life or destroyed by poor decisions expertly and lovingly restored by God.

       Of all the promises God makes in scripture, the promise of restoration may be one of the most undeserved.  The idea of restoration indicates a return to something which once was.  If something is to be restored, then, necessarily, there was damage done.   Often the damage done in our lives is the result of poor decisions, wrong behavior, and the recklessness of others.

          I have seen some restoration projects go bad.  Not everyone is equipped to restore a car or home or even a piece of furniture and sometimes the end product is worse after the project is complete. However, if the original builder or manufacturer does the restoration, all the love and care put into the making would be put into the fixing, with the original purpose in mind.

        This is the same with God.  God is our original manufacturer.  He designed us with loving care and with purpose. Maybe life has been tough.  Maybe poor decisions, poor treatment, or bad habits have damaged you to a point where you feel broken beyond repair.  Know this, nothing is beyond the repair of the Master Builder. 

           Like the car in the above story, we were lovingly crafted with care by a Master Builder.  We are all designed with purpose and hope.  Also like the car, sometimes we fall into the wrong hands or live destructively and end up feeling or deemed useless.  

            Our Master Builder has a son named Jesus Christ who has already paid the redemption price required to bring us back to His Father for restoration.  The Father weeps over your brokenness and desires to lovingly restore you to the purpose for which you were designed.  God does not view you as broken beyond repair nor does He see you as worthless because you have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 

           God is not angry or disgusted by you. Your heavenly Father may hate some of the things you do, but He loves you.  God may weep over your broken condition but He also loves you too much to leave you that way.  

            Are you willing to place yourself in the hands of the Master Builder?  Are you ready to allow your Father to lovingly restore you to your purpose in Him?  

            If you have ever seen a restoration project, you know it may not be a pleasant experience, especially at first, but the results are so worth it.  Romans 8:18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

                  The restoration process may be painful, God may reveal things about you which you would rather not face.  God may remove things from your life you never thought you could live without.  At the same time, He will add good things.

              Have you ever seen a Smith craft a fine sword?  First it goes into fire, then it gets hammered but then, it goes into the cool refreshing water where it is cleansed and cooled. The fire purges the metal of impurity and makes it pliable. The hammer shapes and forms the metal into something with purpose.  The water cools the metal so it keeps it's shape and purpose.  Then the Smith will apply oil and refine the blade, giving it an edge.  

               Our process of restoration is not unlike this. We are purged and shaped into an image God can use.  The process can be agonizing and lonesome.  Then, about the time you believe you can take no more, God will bring refreshing and you will be able to see the progress you have made and the work He has done in and through you.  Refining and remaining conditioned are lifetime processes but the ability to serve according to your purpose and design will fill you with such joy and peace, it will all be worth it.  

             Do not fear the restoring hand of the Master Builder.  Nothing good comes easy in life.  The path of least resistance, though often my path of choice, leads to hardship and loss.  

             God may stretch you past your comfort level but He will never push you past your breaking point. Psalm 103:13-14  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

             Every diamond starts as a piece of coal and experiences extreme pressure which leads to transformation.  Coal is suitable for burning and little else.  Diamonds, as they say, are forever.  You may see yourself as a worthless lump of coal, or you may have been lead to believe you are such.  God sees the diamond you can be in His powerful and loving hands. God designed you to be a diamond.

             Life does not always go as planned.  Dreams are crushed, potential is sometimes squandered and obstacles can block our path at every turn.  The good news is, the God I serve is a God of second, third and even fourth chances.  Proverbs 24:16  for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity. 

            As stated above, God is not angry nor disgusted with you. Though He may abhor some of the things you do, He loves you.  The Bible says, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  This means we do not have to clean up to call out to God.  God will reveal to you the things He hates and lead you to repentance.  

              Right now, God simply waits for you to call out to Him: Psalm 86:5-7  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.   Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.  In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. 
          
               You may feel you have gone to far, even for God.  Even if you have burned every bridge, damaged every relationship and driven anyone who ever cared for you away, know this, you are not powerful enough to make God stop loving you.  Romans 8:37-39  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
                 The key line in this is, "nor anything else in all creation".  Not you, not your parents, not your spouse, not your friends, not even Satan himself is powerful enough to cause God to stop loving you.  

              Please do not resist Him. God calls out to you, even now, come just as you are. Call out to Jesus, accept His redemption, allow Him to bring you to His Father, the Master Builder.  

               The Son has paid the price of your redemption. You are precious, valuable and important to the Father.  

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!             

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

SO, WHAT DOES BORN AGAIN MEAN, ANYWAY?

 
     John 3:3 - I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again,                           he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven


               In 1988, while dating my wife, who was a senior in high school, I accompanied her to a school banquet, I was 19.   At our table was a Jewish guy who had informed me he was going to see Stryper that weekend and they were, "pretty good for BACs"  I asked, "what's a BAC?"  He answered, "Born again Christians."  Though there was nothing in my life at the time indicating my profession of faith, I considered myself a "BAC"  so I answered, "We're not all bad."  The kid looked curiously at me and the conversation moved on to other topics.                

      Today, the term born again Christian is pretty common, but what does it really mean to be born again?  What is this term implying?

    Around 1976, thanks in part, to Jimmy Carter, the term Born Again blossomed into the American vernacular.  In his autobiography, then presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter, referred to himself as a Born Again Christian.  Also, in 1976, disgraced White House counsel, Chuck Colson released his autobiography, Born Again.  Suddenly, the term was flying around like a balloon without a knot, except this balloon would not quickly run out of air.  

           Pollsters began polling and discovered one third of America considered itself Born Again, even though the term itself was relatively new.  The problem with the term is it is not exactly well understood by many people, even some who apply it to themselves.

This from Franciscan Monk Christopher Heffron: 

"The term born again seems to be a very popular one among my Christian friends, but when I ask one of them to explain it, I do not get a very clear answer. I suspect this term can easily be misused or misinterpreted."


              I conducted a poll of my own, on Twitter, and found a very small percentage of those considering themselves Christian do not consider themselves Born Again or don't know if they are Born Again.  I was encouraged by the results.  I think most people, if asked to explain being Born Again, would relate how they had a life changing moment with God by placing faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins.  This would be a true assessment, but why did Jesus specifically use the words "unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven"?  

           Jesus was not just spouting off some platitude or parable, He was actually laying down some heavy doctrine with this statement.  Jesus was demonstrating the literal nature of the Genesis account, man's inherent alienation from God and God's remedy for our broken relationship, all in one statement.  

          We are all born in a sinful state, separated from God.  Later in the same conversation, Jesus says, John 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 
     Indicating we start off lost.  If we do not become lost, we must be born lost.  If we are born lost there must be a reason we are born lost.  Therefore, the fall of Adam in Genesis 3 must be true and we must all be genetically descended from Adam, therefore born with a sin nature which separates us from God.  I refer to this as My Deadly Genetic Disorder .  

         None of us choose to be born.  None of us have a say in our physical heritage.  Like it or not, we are all born into Adam.  Only Jesus, born without the benefit of a human father, is exempt from an inherited sin nature.  No matter how good of a guy your dad was, he was the contributing factor in your sin nature.  
          
         Being born again is literally escaping the ultimate consequence of our sin nature, namely, alienation from God.  As we are reborn by the Spirit of God through the blood of Christ, we are now counted as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.  By being reborn in Christ, we are literally correcting the corruption of our genetic coding. John 1:12  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 

           Being born again goes beyond mere identity, it is a transformation from one thing to another: 2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 

           If you consider yourself a Christian yet reject the idea of being born again, you are not rejecting an identity, you are rejecting the very words of the One you claim to follow.  Ironically, there is a growing number of Christ followers who are rejecting the term Christian because of the bad behavior and poor example of many who carry the moniker.  Jesus never told us to become Christians, Jesus did not start a new religion, He called us to be born again into Him, that we might be reconciled to the Father.

        For example, Jews who followed Christ, in the first century church, did not stop being Jews and turn into Christians, Jews who followed Christ in the first century church became born again Jews.  The term Christian originated as a slur for gentile believers who left pagan practice.  

          How does one become born again?  Simply acknowledging Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, understand He fulfilled the Law which we could never accomplish, accepting His death on the cross as payment for our personal sin, understanding the resurrection gives us hope of eternal life with God, and believing Jesus was and is who He said He was.  The Apostle Paul put it best in Romans 10:9-11  because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is
Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 

             Are you born again?  If you are, own it, live it, and share it.  If you are not, Jesus said you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Born Again is not a religion, it is a relationship, a parent child relationship between you and God.  Being born again is not the destination, but the beginning of an amazing journey with God.    

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

WHY RACISM IN THE PEWS?

   
  Revelation 7:9-10  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 

     When is the most segregated time in America? 11:00 AM Sunday morning.  Nothing reveals our view of race, in America, better because it is the only time of the week we are not, by law, forced to mix and mingle with those who look different than us. 

        This is a great tragedy... The church has failed to lead in the matter of Race because the church has bought into a false construct. The idea of Race is not a Biblical concept but a concept of prejudice predicated on the idea of evolution, designed to elevate one group above others based on appearance and regional heritage.  

      Racism is not necessarily ambivalence toward another group, it may be manifested in apathy as well as disdain.

     In reality, we are one race, descended from Noah and Adam before him.  Galatians 3:26-29  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. 

             The Apostle Paul did not establish black churches in one part of town, white churches in another, and Asian churches in another.  Paul set up a church and everyone in town was welcome, regardless of heritage or appearance. How did the church become so segregated and why are we not knocking down these walls of fear and resentment?  

              It cannot be denied, America has a deplorable history, when it comes to ethnic relations. The founding fathers declared, "all men are created equal..." but failed when it came to defining men.  Our nation was founded, not by Christians, as we have been led to believe, but by Deists who denied the deity of Christ and the supernatural elements of faith.  

           Being Deist, these men were free to reject the elements of scripture with which they disagreed.  If you are feeling a little skeptical at this point, Google the Thomas Jefferson Bible and you may be very surprised at what you find.  

           Our Declaration of Independence refers to Native Americans as "Indian Savages", stripping them of basic humanity.  In 1787, the Constitutional Convention of the United States adopted the Three-Fifths Compromise, determining a slave only counted as three-fifths a person in census counting.  Once these two groups were institutionally dehumanized, any abuse, atrocity or injustice became fair game.

            So what does this have to do with the church today?  More than you might imagine.  The Southern Baptist Convention is the single largest protestant denomination in the United States.  The SBC was formed in 1845 when Baptists in the American South split from Baptists in northern states over the issue of slave owners serving as missionaries.  

            Obviously, the SBC would like to forget about it's racist roots and now officially recognizes all groups as created in God's image, but is institutionalized racism so easily shaken among the local pulpits and pews?

           Black Liberation Theology, a movement born out of the Civil Rights era, founded by Dr. James Cone of Union Theological Seminary, whose purpose was to bring the black community into fellowship with God apart from the specter of white racism.  Dr. Cone demonstrated how God was a champion of the oppressed.  Dr. Cone's vision of  BLT was meant to empower a community victimized by institutional racism, so as Dr. Cone rightfully sought to elevate those who had been traditionally held down by a white majority, he failed to encourage a bridge between two communities who resented one another.  

                Dr. Martin Luther King Jr strove to bring unity between blacks and whites, yet his flame was snuffed out by hatred before his efforts could gain the traction needed to reverse two centuries of division.  The assassination of Dr. King only reinforced division and mistrust, fueling BLTs more radical stance on race relations


             Today, as a result of the failure of church leaders, both white and black, to use the cross as a bridge to unity; distrust, division and even hate continues to festers just under the surface, and sometimes, openly above the surface.  Unfortunately, many allow politics to drive faith, when faith should drive, not only our politics, but every aspect of our lives.  

                How can we possibly claim to follow a book which calls us to view all men as made in the image of God and to love those who persecute us while continuing to draw lines of division based on skin color?  

              Obviously, atrocities committed by the white majority of days past cannot be ignored or glossed over.  As long as one group views itself superior, even in an underlying manner, true unity cannot be achieved.  

             If the Church cannot lead the way in healing, the cause is lost.  James tells us, in his epistle: James 2:1  My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 
              In context, James is talking about distinguishing between rich and poor, but can we not apply the call to abhor partiality as it relates to ethnic identity, also?  

              Once we understand the very idea of race is a social construct built on bad science and poor religious application, we can focus on the image of God found in each of His children, regardless of color or national heritage.  

              Where the church fails, the nation fails. Sin the church ignores festers in the nation.  

          What can we do differently?  It starts on the individual level. Each of us must look beyond stereotype and social construct, seeing, rather, each person we meet as a beloved workmanship created in the image of God.  It takes loving as we are commanded to love in scripture.  A love that neither request nor requires anything in return and sees beyond the outer layer to the heart.  It even means loving those who may hate us.

           Institutions are made up of individuals so as long as individuals behave institutionally, bad institutional practices will not be overcome.  What is the answer? You are! I am! You and I are the catalyst for change, but only if we surrender our hearts to God's leading and learn to love as He does.  

            Jesus said, "love your neighbor as yourself."  Who is your neighbor? Everyone you see. We are all one race - the human race- so go mix, mingle, love and share life because we are all made in the image of God!

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

            

         
               

          

Saturday, May 18, 2019

DABSTER GENTLEMEN CD REVIEW

     
      This week I received my much anticipated copy of Dabster Gentlemen Death or Life.  If you have not heard of Dabster Gentlemen, please allow me to introduce you to a unique sounding band with, what may be to some, familiar vocals.  
           
     Dabster Gentlemen, based in Amarillo Tx, is made up of  Myles Barfield and Dale Thompson.  (yeah, that Dale Thompson).  DG originally started out, more or less, as a Jazz outfit, but have implemented elements of Flamenco guitar, folk and rock to craft something that is hard to categorize but very fun to listen to. 

       The combination of the light and airy, yet masterfully complex, musical compositions of Barfield, coupled with the rock/metal infused vocals of Thompson somehow works in a way that has to be heard to be believed.  

       From the first track, Thick as Thieves, you will find yourself tapping your foot, well before Thompson's vocals kick in. Thick as Thieves is the perfect selection for an introductory song and sets the tone for what the listener can expect.  

           The second track, Animals, rolls a little toward funk with a fun piano foundation.   I love the organ giving way to the Flamenco sound of Rejoice. Darkness Falls actually sounds like it could have been included on Bride's Drop album, with very reflective and thought provoking lyrics.  

            No Signs of Life could easily have been released as a follow up single to Thick As Thieves if the state of Christian radio was not so abysmal.  Have You Met The Man has a bit a of a country vibe that brought me back to the good old days of Outlaw Country.  When The Preacher Stops Preaching kicked me into a Led Zeppelin III kind of vibe.  

          Lyrically, Death or Life is exactly what you would expect from any project to which Dale Thompson is connected.  Deep, meaningful, thought provoking, scripture based and God honoring.

             Overall, this album is a winner and should be on any music lovers rotation.  

            Have they invented a new genre of music? I will leave that up to you do decide. 

     If you would like to learn more about Dabster Gentlemen you can check out their Facebook page here.  
         

              This CD has a very limited release of only 100 units so if you want one, you may have to act fast. For digital downloads you can hit them up on Amazon or wherever good music sold digitally. Here is a sample of what you have been missing: Don't forget to play it loud!



Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

CHURCH AND THE BUSINESS OF GIVING

     
If you have been to church for any period of time, you have probably heard it.  The infamous "Storehouse Message"  You may be feeling a little squirmy just reading this, or maybe you are rolling your eyes, thinking "here we go again".  

        Relax, I am not going to give you seven Biblical principles on why you should give to me or my ministry.  I am going to give you only five... just kidding, this is totally not about that.  

         In fact, one of the biggest tragedies in the church today is the handling of money and methods employed to get more.  I wonder how many pastors Jesus would drive out of their pulpits with a whip after hearing the latest gimmicky sermon designed to raise more money.  

          Maybe, like me, you have heard gems like these, "cash in your nest egg for our latest building project." Or my personal favorite, "dig deep and show Jesus how much you love him."  

  I remember when I was visiting a local church for a few weeks, I felt led to put my tithe in the offering plate.  The next week, a gentleman on the finance committee came up, put his arm around me squeezed real tight and said,  "boy, I'm glad you're here!"   I wonder if his exuberance was because I was a brother in Christ come to worship with him or maybe had something to do with the size of the check I dropped in the plate the previous week.  He wasn't so glad I was the week before...

           As the western church continues to thrive as a business, business interests will continue to muddy up the waters of ministry.  After all, competitive salaries, high mortgages and exorbitant utility bills have to be paid somehow.  The kingdom of God is free, but it ain't cheap!

Storehouse giving

     One of the most blatant and shameful mishandling of scripture is the "Storehouse message", designed to shame and manipulate church goers into giving. The Storehouse Message comes out of Malachi 3:8-10  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.  Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 

       I certainly believe in the principle of tithing and yes, we are commanded to give to the Lord, but the Storehouse Message has nothing to do with funding a church to pay salaries, mortgages and light bills.

    Unless your local church actually has a literal storehouse where the needy can come and be supplied, this message should never be applied to the offering plate. 

  Keeping the big givers happy

      What happens if your biggest contributors are your biggest sinners? What happens when your biggest contributors begin to assert their agendas with the unspoken threat of withholding their generosity?  

      The Apostle Peter dealt with just such a situation in Acts 8 when a new convert offered money to receive authority in the church.  I love his response: Act 8:20-21  But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 

  Peter was not interested in the man's money, but his soul.  What if Peter was facing a huge mortgage payment on his extravagant church building, high utility bills, and needed to make sure he and all his assistant pastors got paid?  What if Peter viewed his ministry from a business perspective?  

    Peter focused on the work set before him and trusted God for provision.  Peter had no need to coddle a wealthy contributor or sugarcoat the truth for fear of losing a big donor.  

Teaching to the tithe

       Another big trap a ministry can fall into is teaching to the tithe.  Teaching to the tithe is making sure the message offends no one because let's face it, happy customers are paying customers.  If McDonald's decided to change it's menu to only healthy food, how long would it take before McDonald's went out of business?

        Recently, I heard a nationally syndicated radio talk show host say church should not challenge people or make them introspective, rather church should make people feel good about themselves. 

       Hmmm, I guess that makes Jesus the biggest failure when it comes to building a congregation.  In one day, Jesus attracted over 5000 people to His ministry and because He taught them things they did not want to hear, His congregation collapsed and He was left with only twelve.  Jesus was not very business savvy and not many church boards would tolerate such behavior from a pastor hired to "pack 'em in".  

         As soon as a ministry considers how a particular message or truth may negatively affect attendance and giving, the ministry has lost sight of it's true purpose. 

  Giving is commanded in scripture

      Don't get me wrong, I believe in giving and I also believe in supporting local ministries through tithes and offerings. This is scriptural.  What I do not believe in is a ministry strong arming people into giving where God has not directed.  

       God commands us to give, however, nowhere in scripture does it say, "Thou shalt give to the local church."  God may tell you, individually, to support a local congregation, or, God may direct to buy groceries for a needy family facing sudden unemployment.  

        The point is, if your giving is not God directed, it may be misdirected.  If you are giving out of guilt or intimidation, your giving is in vain, spiritually speaking.

Tithing is a Biblical principle

        For the Church, tithing is not commanded.  The clearest teaching on giving in the church age is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

        Tithing, however, is a Biblical principle established before the giving of the Law.  Hundreds of years before the Law was given, we see Abraham tithing the spoils of war to Melchizedek. 

         Tithing is basically a covenant between you and God where you set aside 10% of your income for His work.  I believe in and practice tithing.  I do not, however, believe we are called to blindly support a local ministry or church just because we are told to by someone who depends on your giving for a salary.

         Instead, allow God to direct your giving.  You may be called to support a variety of ministries, missionaries or individuals.  You may be called to give to the local congregation you attend.  Just be open to God's lead and give where God directs, regardless of how convincing this quarter's storehouse message may seem.  

        God calls us to give and to do so with a cheerful heart.  Don't be afraid to ask where the money you give goes.  Be open to the move of the Holy Spirit when it comes to your finances and know you can trust God.  

Now, go live as Christ... and Give the devil hell!


            

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

WHAT IS A SOUL WORTH?

   
Ponder hell with me for just a moment.  Ponder the idea of eternal flames, wailing, gnashing of teeth, remorse and separation from God.  


        Now ponder this thought, people you know and love are on their way to this very reality.  

        
       Have you shared what you believe?  Have you taken the time to, at the very least, broach the topic of spiritual things?  

        We have no problem sharing our favorite stuff.  We can talk for hours about our favorite movie, TV show, music, food... well you get the idea.  So why is it so difficult to share our faith or simply make God part of our normal conversations?

         Yeah, I get it, as long as I talk about normal stuff, safe stuff, no one will think  I'm weird.  After all, who am I to push my beliefs on other people, right?

          If you truly believe in the reality of hell and eternal torment for those who do not know your savior, can you in good conscience say you love, or even care about them, if you never bring up the topic of God's grace?

           Would you watch silently as people you cared about drove 100 miles per hour toward a bridge you knew was out?  Would you care if people you claimed to love took a nap on train tracks?  Why is the surety and reality of hell any different?  

           What is a soul worth?  

           Consider, for a moment, what the Apostle Paul endured for people he never met:  2 Corinthians 11:24-28  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 

           Paul's understanding of the reality of eternal separation from God drove him to cast aside his own well being and safety, even for people he never met and some who hated him.

            What perspective does this give us towards those we actually know and love?  

            No, not all of us are called to be evangelists, but we are all called to be salt and light to those around us.  This means we are to live and speak in a manner properly representing our Lord Jesus Christ.  

            This is not about "going out witnessing" or street corner evangelism or even handing out tracts, which are all fine and good for those who are called to such things.  This is about being real, being who you are in Christ, and possibly, doing nothing more than letting people know you are a person of faith, without getting preachy.  Living a life that honors God and seizing the opportunities God gives, with those whom you are already in relationship.  

            I decided to conduct a poll on Twitter @RealPaulAhnert, to see what the top hindrance is to sharing faith.  As of now, 40% of those who responded claim fear of rejection as the greatest obstacle.  Fear of being thought weird is running a close second at 32% and is my personal folly to overcome. 

          I am also very thankful to the many who left comments on the poll giving various other obstacles they face and those who have no hindrances at all are of course admirable.  

            The point is, most of us struggle with sharing our faith with friends and loved ones at one time or another.  This camaraderie cannot allow us to continue struggling and sensing safety in numbers, however.  Rather, we ought to be lifting one another up in prayer, encouraging each other and even throwing in a little good old fashioned accountability.      
            

              Getting started is the hardest part. Finding those openings, without making it seem forced or confrontational can be difficult.  Once the conversation starts, it takes, either, a natural flow or you may sense resistance pretty quickly.  Those sweet moments when the natural flow occurs are often amazing and unexpected.  When great resistance takes place, back off a bit and wait for another opportunity and do not forget to pray for the person.

      We do not face this alone 

                God does not leave us to fend for ourselves: 2 Timothy 1:7-8  for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 
               
              When we do God's business, He equips us.  Live a life worthy of the Gospel, treat others well, earn the right to be heard and ask yourself one question: What is a soul worth?
               
       Here is a song by Rocketboy dealing with this very topic:  




Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

FINDING YOUR PLACE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST - SERVING BY GOD'S DESIGN

         Should Christians be coerced or otherwise guilted into serving God in a specific manner?  Should giving to the work of the Lord be compulsory?  Is it ever right to assign service based on availability vs. suitability?  


       Interestingly, God answers these questions in a portion of scripture many overlook or merely read over quickly.  In Exodus 35, we find Moses, having been given the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, offering the people of God the opportunity to serve God according to their calling and gifting.  

Exodus 35:4-5  Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded.   Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; 

Notice what Moses did not say: "Dig deep and show God how much you love Him!"  "The more you give, the bigger the blessing from God you will release!"  "Nobody else is doing the work I am doing, so you need to give to this ministry!"

 Notice what Moses does say: Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD's contribution

Exodus 35:10  “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded: 

Everything is not for everybody              

     Everyone has a crucial part to play, a role to fulfill, a specific function in the body of Christ.  As the Apostle Paul said:
 1 Corinthians 12:12-15  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 

         So we all participate in the Great Commission but we do not all participate in the same manner.  As in the Exodus passage above, there are those who are called to give and will do so out of joy.  There are those who are skilled in various ways, these are called to serve according to their ability.  

         If everyone is serving and contributing according to their God given design, each will feel fulfilled in service and the work will not be a burden.

         Few things will destroy your spiritual life quicker than attempting to serve outside your calling.  

Pitfalls to avoid:

1. Availability does not equal ability 

     Do not allow someone to bully, coerce, or manipulate you into a        task or service to which you have not been called nor equipped.        By allowing someone to fill your free time with a service you 
      are not called to, you will not have time to pursue things to
      which you are called. You will experience burnout, frustration
       and dissatisfaction and soon begin questioning God's goodness.
       If you do not feel called, just say no!

2. Avoid compulsory giving

       The Bible teaches two very important concepts when            it         comes to giving: 
       1.God loves a cheerful giver.  
       2. The principle of the tithe
       
        These principles are God led.  Just like any other service to 
        which we are called, God will provide the resources.  Tithing 
        is a contract between you and God where you trust God with 
        10% of your income and God promises to provide your needs.
        Tithing has nothing to do with being obligated to give to a 
         local church or ministry.  It may mean buying groceries for a 
         needy family supporting a missionary.

          If you give because you have been pressured or otherwise  
          coerced you are giving for the wrong reason and possibly to             the wrong place.  

3. Do not allow others to decide your calling, gifts or purpose

     Your relationship with God is personal.  Your gifts, calling and          talents are unique.  When you are operating in your God given 
      gifting, there is no greater joy or contentment.  Unless you hear
      clearly from God, it is ok, even wise, to hold back and wait.  
      God will reveal your gifts to you in due time. When a person 
      tells you what they think your calling is, it should confirm what
      you already believe or suspect. 


None of this excuses you from getting out of your comfort zone.  Nothing grows in the comfort zone. In fact, we are commanded by scripture to encourage people out of the comfort zone and into serving: 1 Thessalonians 5:14  And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 

     We are to encourage people to serve, though, not necessarily how to serve.  That is the difference.  Yes, we are commanded, in scripture, to give, serve and fellowship.  What we are not commanded to do is give, serve or fellowship outside of God's directing.  

     As a born again believer, you are indwelt by the Spirit of God and, therefore, have direct communication with the Father.  The early church was devoted to the apostles' teaching, prayer and fellowship and so should we be.  If you are putting the time in to study God's Word and pray, I promise you, you will hear from God.

   Do not allow a minister or spiritual leader to replace the Holy Spirit.  If you find a spiritual leader who seems to contradict what you are hearing from God, run, don't walk to the nearest exit.

  Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  Not because following Jesus is a cake walk but because He will empower and equip you to follow as He directs.  If you are struggling in service, you may not be serving according to God's plan for your life. 

    Few things could be more tragic than a life spent pursuing something God never intended for you. God desires your life to be filled with joy, peace and contentment.  If you are serving according to your design, joy, peace and contentment will be the natural fruit of your labors.  Proverbs 3:5 Trust in Yehovah with all your hear and lean not on your own understandings, in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!


Friday, April 19, 2019

THE HOLLYWOOD CONNECTION TO CONNECTING WITH GOD

             
     Is Jesus our example for being in the world but not of the world?  Are we following the lead of our Master or the misguided ideas of men?

     Jesus connected with, ate with, associated with and ultimately ministered effectively to unbelievers. Jesus did not wall Himself off from society and sit around with like minded people complaining about the sin of others.  Jesus went out and made meaningful relationships.  

              What opportunities might we not even be aware of as we live in our little church bubbles, believing attending services once or twice per week is somehow serving God?    

      As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I begin to rethink some convictions I formerly held.  As a pastor, I have had the honor of performing wedding ceremonies. I have not performed many weddings and have chosen to not perform some along the way.  

       I generally shied away from performing weddings for those who do not consider themselves believers in Christ, thinking, you do not want God part of your daily life, but you want Him to bless your marriage?  

       I think I may have missed a great opportunity and also may have misunderstood the reason so many unbelievers seek out a minister for major life events like weddings and funerals or why so many who do not regularly attend church or synagogue do so on high holy days such as Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.  

       Is it possible America has been conditioned, inadvertently by pop culture, to seek out clergy for specific events or major religious holidays?

       To test this hypothesis, one only need to look at Hollywood's formative years.  Originally, in the earliest years of the 20th century, movie makers began producing films for American audiences.  Soon, Eastern European immigration began to change the Hollywood landscape.  Many immigrants who came to Hollywood in order to make films were non religious but of Jewish heritage.  Over time, the movie industry began to make not so family friendly films. 

         By the early 1920's, Catholic leaders set ups advisory boards to oversee content in the film industry, but much of the advisory board's regulations were ignored.  By the early 1930's, film industry profits were in sharp decline as families stopped attending movie houses.  By the mid 1930's, the Catholic led advisory boards were able to influence the content of new films, resulting in more family friendly fare, which rescued the film industry by, once again, boosting ticket sales.

        Hollywood was influenced mainly by Jewish and Catholic filmmakers and executives.  Interestingly, Judaism and Catholicism are both representative theocracies. God established Israel as a representative theocracy at Mt Sinai.  God set up a system where the common man experienced God through proxy.  The prophet took the Word of God and brought it to the people while the priest  took the prayers and sacrifices of the people and presented those to God.

           When Jesus died on the cross, His sacrifice granted access to God the Father, meaning we no longer needed a human representative between us and God: Ephesians 2:18  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Both Jew and Gentile now have access to God through the shed blood of Christ.

             Somewhere along the line, the Vatican missed this concept and created a Christian version of a representative theocracy.  The Roman Catholic clergy fulfilled the role of both prophet and priest as the sole representative, both man to God and God to man.  Much of this was changed during the Vatican II Council in the mid 1960's, but prior to Vatican II, Catholic doctrine taught only a priest could interpret scripture and the priest provided absolution through confession. 

             Because Hollywood was run by those who held to a representative theocratic view, the concept of coming to God through a human mediator or hearing from God through a human interpreter has been deeply embedded in our entertainment.  This is not some great conspiracy, merely a byproduct of the religious views of the early Hollywood establishment.  American culture has mistakenly elevated clergy to the position of the average man's connection to God.  

            I discovered this truth when I began to give a different response to people who asked me to pray for them.  I am not really sure why, but instead of just saying. "sure, no problem" as I was accustomed, I began saying, "I will pray for you if you promise to also pray about this situation."  The response I got was so unexpected.  Most people who do not go to church or have a sense of a relationship with God seemed surprised I would make such a request.  I was surprised by their surprise!

              It would appear most people want to connect with God on some level but the idea of a personal relationship seems to elude many.  In fact, many mistakenly perceive a barrier between them and God, not realizing there is free access through the shed blood of Christ.

              This is why those outside the church or synagogue seek out clergy for weddings and funerals.  People want God's blessing on marriages and want to ensure loved ones are sent on to the next world by a qualified representative of God.  

              This is why Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are the most attended services of the year.  These are the times people are conscious of God's favor. 

               This is why I am changing my perspective, and practice, concerning weddings and funerals.  These are opportunities for evangelism to people who may never, otherwise, seek out clergy.  

                The task of the church should be to encourage people to connect with God on a personal level, to disciple believers into spiritual independence, and ultimately move them into serving according to their gifting and calling.  

              You do not need the pastor, priest or rabbi to go to God on your behalf, you have access to the Father through the Son.  God wants to hear from you.  God wants you  to know Him on a personal level, not for you to merely know about Him based on what someone tells you.  

                  Let's help others connect with God on a personal level and support the work of the Holy Spirit in one other's lives. Be available to help someone connect with God, don't allow anyone to make you the connection.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!



            

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

TAX COLLECTORS, SINNERS AND FRIENDS OF JESUS

       
Have you ever been made to feel as if you were insignificant, didn't matter or just not worth the effort?  Maybe you have been written off by someone you cared about.  

         When a person is made to feel insignificant or worthless, they will often withdraw and build a protective shell to ward off emotional harm from others. This is where dangerous and self destructive behavior can take place.  

     Where is God for the cast off, the misfit and the oddball?  Where is God for those on the fringe of society?  Does God just write people off as well?

            In Matthew 9:9-13 we see Jesus standing against the status quo and associating  with those who had been written off by society. Matthew 9:9-13  As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.  And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”   But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

               In Jesus' society, tax collectors were considered among the worst of the worst.  Granted, many tax collectors were dishonest and viewed as traitors for collecting taxes for occupying Rome, but nonetheless, they were cast offs. 

               Jesus called Matthew to be part of His inner circle, not because Matthew had anything special, but because Jesus knew Matthew's heart was willing. Jesus went to Matthew's home to eat and apparently other tax collectors and sinners of various stripes showed up as well.  Jesus did not excuse Himself or begin to rebuke anyone, He, instead, built relationships.  

                The Pharisees, who complained about Jesus associating with those they considered riff raff, were the establishment and arbiters of what was acceptable.  The Pharisees looked down on and criticized Jesus for associating with those who were deemed unworthy.   

              Jesus' response reveals God's heart toward those who are viewed as misfits.  Jesus values those society devalues.  Jesus seems very comfortable with with those who may make others squirm.

          As familiar and welcoming as Jesus was with the outcasts, He also did not downplay the fact they were sinners.  This is very important.  Jesus loved the fringey but He did not endorse, celebrate or overlook their sin.  

           Jesus makes two very important distinctions here:

1. He did not come for the self righteous or those who had no 
     sense of sin in their lives 

2. Those with sin were loved by God but needed the Great                     Physician to cure them of the spiritual disease of sin

Jesus recognized those with need and welcomed them, one and all, to have their needs met.  

Apparently, Jesus is not rebuking the dinner guests directly, not calling out their individual sins, rather, He is sharing truth.  Likewise, we are not the Holy Spirit, and it is not necessarily our role to point out everyone's specific sins, especially those of unbelievers.  Instead, we are to point those outside of faith to the Savior and allow God to convict their hearts.

         Notice whose sin Jesus pointed out?  The religious leaders.  There are times when it is biblical to directly address the sins of brothers and sisters in Christ.  There may even be times when it is appropriate to address dangerous behavior of unbelievers, but we should not be in the practice of calling out the individual sins of those outside the church.  

              People outside faith in Christ are not going to hell because they sin, they sin because they are going to hell
When we understand this truth, our approach to evangelism will change and look more like the way Jesus interacted with unbelievers.

             Jesus did not fail to address sin, but He did so only after a relationship or connection was established.  The woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the man healed at the pool of Bethesda - each one Jesus addressed sin, but each one had a meaningful encounter first.

              It is easy for believers to sit around criticizing, condemning and complaining about the sin of the world around us. It is not so easy for us to love and care about those whose lifestyles or behaviors disgust us.  This is where we need to be like Jesus, loving people where they are but not being willing participants in their own destruction. 

     Love means speaking truth

     Jesus never sugarcoated the truth and neither should we.  At the same time, we have to remember our use of the truth is not a club but a shepherds staff meant to guide others to the Good Shepherd.  

     Jesus said, "if you love me you will obey my commands" and we know Jesus commanded us to love God and love others.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  So let's get out there and do it!

       Jesus was not afraid to walk along the fringe of society in order to reach the lost.  Likewise, we cannot shun those who need to know about Jesus.  

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!